Citizens celebrate India's independence from British rule in the streets of Calcutta
View more images
The light of the British empire was extinguished in 1947. Without India, there was no empire.
For the years before WWII, Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose had insisted only independence would do. And when Attlee became prime minister (1945) he too wanted India to have its independence. India no longer made economic, administrative nor political sense to a Britain with no money and the biggest social reform programme it had ever attempted.
In theory, India might have gained independence earlier but for three conflicts: First, Britain struggled with the principle of independence. Second, WWII meant Britain was not geared to creating the circumstances for letting go. Third, was the failure of the Indians themselves to unify. The Muslim League of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the largely Hindu India Congress Party, enormously influenced by Gandhi never fully agreed on any way ahead. By the 1940s Jinnah wanted a separate state for Muslims and in 1947, the new viceroy, Mountbatten, created Pakistan.
Mountbatten had become viceroy because his predecessor Archibald Wavell fell out with the British government. Wavell said flood India with British troops to supervise handover and then pull them out as the partition was completed. Attlee didn't think so. Wavell went.
Mountbatten arrived in March 1947. His deadline for independence was June 1948. Fifteen months was not much time. But so clear was it that civil war between Muslims and Hindus was about to break out, that the date was brought forward to August 1947.
The inevitable happened. Religious fury. All of it hurriedly left by the British. Probably, some two million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs died. Between twelve and fifteen million people were forcibly transferred between the two countries.
Here was the legacy of the failure of the British to organise a peaceful independence, their dismissal of a sensible military plan that had been produced by Mountbatten's predecessor, Wavell and the intransigence of Gandhi and even Jinnah.
How much was the peace-loving Gandhi responsible? Or Jinnah who had pleaded for unity and then demanded partition?
In the end, both failed. It was not the end to the raj that the British had envisaged.